When confronted by journalists concerning the nature of his grandson’s kidnapping at an early point in Ridley Scott’s new film, J. Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer) tersely remarks that the demanded $17 million dollars is a lot of money – ‘I have 14 grandchildren and if I paid ransoms I’d have 14 kidnapped grandchildren,’ he responds in what appears to be a perfectly valid point. Getty’s reasons for refusing to pay the sum in question, and hemming and hawing about reduced figures which followed, are only made clear to us towards the end of the film and the sense of repugnance is made manifest as Gail Harris (Michelle Williams) – Getty’s estranged daughter-in-law – stares disdainfully at a bust of the deceased tycoon. Based on John Pearson’s 1995 book Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty, the adapted screenplay by David Scarpa provides some telling backstory in relation to Getty’s relationship with his substance-addicted son John Paul Getty Jr. (Andrew Buchan) and the overarching philosophy the older man had as regards wealth, power and possession.
The kidnapping of the 16-year-old J.P Getty III (going by the name Paolo) in Rome in 1973 has already been presented to us at this stage and Scott wisely does not labour the backdrop, but rather provides it as a preliminary commentary on the ultimately vacuous nature of materialism and material things which so dominate Getty Senior’s world. Throughout the film we see the older man revel in his extensive collection of paintings and rare artefacts; at one point he unveils the model for a new mansion he is planning to build Stateside. The film’s denouement reveals his reasons for such thrifty pursuits. On a seemingly more practical level, Getty employs one of his fixers Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg) to travel to Italy and negotiate with his grandson’s kidnappers. The self-made patrician suggests that such mediation is not the remit of a woman – an old-fashioned opinion of course which is entirely archaic. Gail Harris – as portrayed by Williams – is in point of fact both resilient and highly-principled. She has refused to give up custody of her children to Getty in exchange for financial remuneration and so does not have the wherewithal to meet the required ransom. Turning to her former father-in-law is Gail’s only option and she is visibly horrified when he publicly declares that he will not pay one cent to Paolo’s detainers.
Held captive initially in Calabria, the film benefits from some particularly strong scenes between Charlie Plummer’s John Paul Getty III and Cinquanta (Romain Duris), the most enigmatic and sympathetic of his kidnappers. The middle section of the film descends somewhat into a holding pattern as offers and counter-offers are made and Getty III is sold on to another crime organisation which reveals itself to be more physically vicious that the first. Many viewers will recoil at one particular moment of brutality which served to fix the crime in memory and also focused the efforts of Harris and Chase. But for all this, the very best moments of All the Money in the World involve Plummer’s sizeable presence. Now in his 89th year, the Oscar winner has perhaps never been better evoking emotions of abhorrence as he callously ponders and equates the ransom fee to that of a tax deductible expense. There is a vaguely pitiable quality to Plummer’s final scenes and this is a testament to the great man’s peerless talent. Parachuted in to replace the disgraced Kevin Spacey, Plummer’s achievement in the not-inconsiderable role is all the more remarkable when one reflects upon the eleventh hour nature of his casting and the short period of time he and Scott had to work together (he was, incidentally, Scott’s original choice for the part).
Mark Wahlberg is typically solid in the unshowy part of Chase and the cast is well rounded out by the aforementioned Charlie Plummer and Duris; discerning viewers will also note the presence of Timothy Hutton as Oswald Hinge, Getty’s slick and highly articulate attorney. The 80-year-old Scott has demonstrated his continued stamina in recent years with ventures into the science fiction genre (the two Alien prequels and The Martian) and epic adventure (Robin Hood and Exodus: Gods and Kings). This new film of his represents a change of pace and setting once again, but the English helmer shows himself to be more than up to the task. As with his 2007 film American Gangster, All the Money in the World benefits from the extensive location work and authentic 70s period feel. The cinematography of Scott regular Dariusz Wolski picks out the dominant hues of this bygone decade and the adapted screenplay of David Scarpa posits the film’s central subject matter without over-egging the thematic pudding. But in the final analysis All the Money in the World will live longest in the memory on account of the work of its central performers, Williams and Plummer Senior most especially. Much better than expected given the nature of its frantic and much-publicised reshoots.